JACKSONVILLE – It's almost here. Really.
Jaguars 2017 Training Camp is now a day or two away depending on how you calculate it. Veterans report Wednesday. The first practice comes Thursday morning on the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field. Either way …
The offseason is ending. Really. The real stuff is upon us. Really.
It's time to go, really – and as we go, here are 10 things the Jaguars must do during 2017 Training Camp and preseason:
10.Find their punt returner …Will it be veteran Rashad Greene or rookie Dede Westbrook? Or someone else? Special teams will be a major emphasis in 2017, and a priority is finding someone who can threaten to flip the field on punt returns. They averaged 5.5 yards per return last season, a number that must improve significantly.
9. … and their kick returner.Westbrook, a fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, is capable in this area, too. Running back Corey Grant also is an option, and winning the kick returner role would go a long way toward securing a roster spot for the third-year veteran. Keep an eye on wide receiver Marqise Lee here, too. He likes returning kicks, and he's good at it having averaged 30.3 yards on 18 returns last season.
8.See if Dante Fowler Jr. has improved as a pass rusher.Fowler during the offseason said he couldn't wait for pads to go on in training camp. That's when the third-year defensive end will be able to truly show his progress as a pass rusher from last offseason. It's time.
7.Determine their left tackle …Rookie Cam Robinson versus veteran Branden Albert is the most high-profile position battle in camp. Robinson, the No. 34 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, played left tackle at Alabama and worked at the position throughout the on-field portion of the offseason. Albert, acquired in a trade with Miami, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection at left tackle but opted to not attend the offseason program. The competition begins for real when the pads go on.
6. … and decide what to do with Robinson.The Robinson-Albert winner will start at left tackle, but what – if as many expect will happen – Albert wins the job? Do the Jaguars move Robinson inside to guard? He has the skill set to play the interior, but never has played there. Do you draft a player No. 34 overall and have him be a backup as a rookie? This may be the most intriguing question of training camp.
5.Continue to develop Myles Jack as a defensive leader and play-caller.The Jaguars early in the offseason moved Jack from the strong-side linebacker position he played as a rookie to the middle. That means he'll be making defensive calls and wearing the helmet-to-sideline communication device on game days. That's big responsibility for a player who never has started an NFL game in the middle. The coming three or four weeks are critical for Jack on that front.
4.Determine their offensive line.There's more to the offensive line than the Robinson-Albert battle. The Jaguars also must determine other starters along the offensive line. Jermey Parnell at right tackle seems the only sure thing, with Brandon Linder starting at either guard or center. Where will Linder start? Center or guard? Who will start at left and right guard? The early part of training camp will go far in determining the answers.
3.Have rookie Leonard Fournette show he's the No. 1 running back.The guess here is the No. 4 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft won't begin training camp working with the ones. That's because the coaching staff wants him to earn a starting role. That likely will happen sooner rather than later, but Fournette needs to show he's the guy – and he needs to do it when the pads go on in training camp.
2.Get Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin healthy.The Jaguars' starting corner and nickel corner, respectively, Ramsey and Colvin will start camp on the active/physically unable to perform list. Being on that list often is a precautionary measure and the players can practice immediately upon being cleared medically. This isn't a crisis right now, but considering the duo's importance to the secondary, that needs to happen in time for the duo to prepare for the regular season.
1.Blake Bortles, Blake Bortles, Blake Bortles …There are so many "musts" involving Bortles that it's hard to focus on just one. He must continue to master the offense, and must continue to improve his accuracy. Mostly, he must perform well enough in preseason and training camp to maintain belief that his offseason work on his mechanics in the offseason will provide the benefits he wanted. Bortles realistically won't be able to "prove himself" until the regular season. But he still needs to look good in camp and preseason.